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Sue Russell – Head of Community Waitakere committed to empowering people to realise their aspirations

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SueCommunity Waitakere succeeds when the people of West Auckland have the tools and the information that enable and empower them to build the community they want and meets the needs of everyone.

That is the basic philosophy of Sue Russell, the (relatively) new CEO of Community Waitakere, who through living in different communities throughout the world has experienced what can make strong and resilient communities in various contexts.

She has brought this experience from Dunedin to Community Waitakere, an organisation that she admired while working in the community sector in Dunedin.Community Waitakere, she says, embodies much of what was good about the ‘Waitakere Way’ and principally about the way democracy was fostered at the grass roots and where community faces challenges ‘head-on’ together.

Community Waitakere has been embedded in West Auckland for 31 years (originally as West Auckland District’s Council of Social Services). It has a long history of working collaboratively with communities through a social justice lens. Sue saw Community Waitakere as a community organisation that was nationally recognised for encouraging and supporting residents and organisations to shape the community they wanted by identifying issues and finding their own solutions.

The Ranui Action Plan and Massey Matters are good examples of community initiatives that work in this way. Another example of collaborative engagement with the community can be seen in Community Waitakere’s involvement in Project Twin Streams.

Project Twin Streams is a dynamic and successful example of community collaboration thanks to the commitment and buy-in from local residents and diverse interest groups like Scouts, churches, Rotaries, schools and businesses. These groups have committed to replanting, maintaining and cleaning-up the stream banks in their neighbourhoods. The knock-on effect is a partnership with the council to create community green spaces, clean up waterways, encourage wildlife and clear the way for an incomparable network of path and cycle ways.

This all adds value to the city, builds civic pride, friendships, a sense of political empowerment and ownership. The full benefits will still be emerging years from now.

Sue believes the true value of community engagement and participation can only be accurately measured using the quadruple bottom line approach of measuring environmental, social, cultural and economic outcomes. These four spheres are intrinsically linked and when working well together they lead to connected, thriving and sustainable communities.

This is only a small part of what Community Waitakere does. Many people in West Auckland will have used the Waitakere Community Resource Centre in Henderson: whether to attend an antenatal class, yoga, a community gathering or to attend the many training sessions that Community Waitakere provide for those that work in the community sector. This facility is managed by Community Waitakere as a community facility available for groups to use. Along with the Resource Centre, Community Waitakere acts as a conduit of information and a connector – running network meetings, providing information on various services, events and activities that are happening in the West.

Other services include raising awareness of community challenges and facilitating action, mentoring community groups and organisations in governance and administration, keeping abreast of legislation and policy that could affect them.

Under Sue’s leadership the core of fostering grassroots democracy by assisting communities to work for their goals will continue to be key to Community Waitakere.

This is a practical expression of what Sue learned living in various communities around the world: that community is what you make of it by connecting with the people, becoming involved and leveraging its assets. And Waitakere has many assets. For further information visit www.communitywaitakere.org.nz or call 09 838 7904.